Children and Dogs – How to Prevent Dog Bites
It is estimated that there is a child bitten every 40 seconds in the United States. Dog bites are considered one of the biggest health hazards to children under the age of 12. Often it is the family dog or a friend’s dog that is responsible for these incidents. At other times it is the child’s interaction with dogs they do not know. It is very important that we educate our children on how to interact with dogs they don’t know as well as dogs they do know. Remember, in the middle of the last century most dogs lived outside and not in our homes. They are now living closer with humans than ever, even going to work with us and sharing our beds. No wonder the incidents of dog bites have increased so much in the last 20 years.
Teaching kids how to interact with dogs is huge! If you are getting a dog or have a dog, it is very important you spend time educating your kids about dogs and how they think. Many times I will use a stuffed dog to demonstrate to children appropriate and inappropriate interactions with a dog… how to approach a dog, how to pet a dog, and what areas of the body to leave alone—basically what dogs like and don’t like.
Here are some basic rules that are very important to share with your children:
1. Do not approach a dog that you do not know. Always ask a grown-up if a dog is child friendly before you try to pet them.
2. If a dog runs up to you and you don’t know him, stand still and don’t run or scream. Keep your hands by your sides and do not reach out to pet him. If the dog sniffs you, try not to react and wait till the dog is done with his investigation. I always teach kids to stop and then “make like a tree” when they meet a strange and/or excitable dog. Most often if they do this, the dog will go away.
3. Don’t put your face into any dog’s face or try to kiss them; dogs find this as a threat.
4. Never hug a dog, as dogs don’t like to be hugged. Many dogs see hugs as threatening. Primates are the only species of animal that accept chest to chest hugging as a way of showing affection. A child hugging a dog is often a recipe for disaster.
5. A small child approaching a dog resting on an elevated area can be a very dangerous situation. Many dog bites to children happen when the dog is elevated. If you have a dog that growls or grumbles when you try to move them on the couch or bed, this is a dog that will likely snap at a child who does the same. Dogs don’t see children as leaders, but more like siblings. Siblings often compete for resources and elevated areas are many times highly desirable spots.
6. Let sleeping dogs lie. Don’t disturb a dog that is sleeping or resting. Don’t let children climb into the dog’s bed or into their crate. Dogs need a place to escape the ever-pursuing child.
7. Never let children be unsupervised with a dog that you are not sure is “bullet proof.” Children unintentionally can hurt a dog and the dog may feel the need to protect itself. Many years ago, I knew a 7-year-old girl who stuck a pencil up her dog’s rectum and the dog bit her in the face. How awful is that! The owners decided to re-home the dog (instead of their daughter). This unfortunate incident could have been avoided by adult supervision. Lets face it; kids will do some pretty crazy stuff. Tonight my little girl wanted to know if she could put nail polish on Dave’s paws. While this could be a harmless interaction, I needed to be sure she would not scare or hurt him when she grabbed his paws to put on the polish. The idea quickly passed to a game of tag.
8. I let my 4 year old feed Dave every morning. He knows that after he places the food down on the ground, to back away and give him space. It is important to teach children not to go near a dog that is eating.
9. If a dog has a toy or a bone in his mouth, leave him alone and do not try to take it away. If you hear a growl, move away from the dog.
10. On that note, you need to teach your children what a growl sounds like, and what a snarl looks like. There are some good vides on YouTube that you can use to show your children some of these images. The idea is not to scare your kids, but to educate them to how this looks.
11. Children cannot be trusted to “read” a dog’s body language. Unfortunately most adults can’t read it either. One of the biggest misconceptions many people teach their children is that if the dog’s tail is wagging, he is friendly. A dog wagging his tail can mean a variety of things. If his tail is wagging up high, it can mean he is confident. When I have worked as a “helper” or decoy in protection work, many times the dog biting my sleeve is wagging his tail. Parents should try to educate themselves on how to “read” dogs and their body language. This will allow them to teach their children correctly.
12. When a child is allowed (by adult supervision) to pet the stranger’s dog, make sure that the child pets the dog from below the chin or on the side of the dog’s body. Have them stay away from the dog’s ears and tail, as some dogs may be sensitive to these spots. Many dogs also do not like to be petted on top of the their heads and see this as a sign that the child is trying to be dominant.
13. Another misconception is allowing the dog to give your child kisses. Do not allow the dog to lick the child’s face, as teeth are right behind that tongue and a dominant dog will many times try to force this licking and then become aggressive when you try to stop them. The dog may also be doing a “tongue flick”, which is a signal in canine behavior to back away because I am feeling too much pressure. Many times a bite comes right after a “tongue flick”.
I want to clarify my position here. I am not trying to imply that dogs should not be around children. There is nothing better than seeing children interact with their own dog. I have been with dogs from the time I was born and was given my very own dog (by my grandmother) at the age of 7 years old. My wirehaired dachshund Magic was my best friend and was always putting up with my childhood antics. He slept in my bed every night and nestled under my arm as we exchanged back scratches every evening. Often there is a special bond that happens between a child and their dog. Dave is more excited to see my children upon coming home from Dog Gone Smart than he is with any person in his life. He just loves my kids.
I love to involve children in the training process as it helps build a relationship of cooperation and it’s fun. It’s interesting to note that children many times make the most consistent and best teachers. They have no preconceived ideas of training. A leash correction is something they have no concept of. Putting a clicker and some treats in their hands and teaching them to train in a positive motivational way is a wonderful thing. However, children are not seen as leaders but as siblings. I encourage parents to involve their children in the training process as long as they are supervising. Under no circumstances should a child be a disciplinarian to the dog. If you feel the need to use an aversive on your dog, I recommend that you do this training not in the presence of your children, no matter how mild the aversive is.
If you have a child that is scared of dogs, it is important that you help this child conquer these feelings. Studies have shown that a child that is fearful of dogs has a much greater chance of being bitten in their lifetime than children who are more secure and confident around dogs. Several years ago I had a client whose dog severely bit her daughter’s hands. The dog was euthanized but left the child petrified of dogs. So we had the little girl visit us at our canine center several times to help her overcome this fear. We put her around calm and friendly canines and it finally worked.
Dogs are the most wonderful gift we can give our children. We just need to make sure we give them the guidance needed to make it as beautiful and safe as it should be.
(Original Article posted on CanineMaster.com blog)